The Battle of Marathon

Michael Scott on a thoughtful analysis of a pivotal classical battle

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Reviewed by: Michael C Scott
Author: Peter Krentz
Publisher: Yale University Press
Price (RRP): £12

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John Stuart Mill once famously argued that “the battle of Marathon, even as an event in English history, is more important than the battle of Hastings”. During the recent 2,500th anniversary of Marathon, it was inevitable that the question of its importance again came under the microscope.

But perhaps an even more important question that has echoed through the years is this: exactly what happened at the battle?

Peter Krentz in this book sets out to examine what happened and why it is important. He is not the first to do so, nor will he, I am sure, be the last, but it must stand as one of the more comprehensive and accessible accounts.

He begins with a look at the place of Marathon in western culture, before starting his story
20 years before the battle. He charts both the political manoeuvres of Athens in the infancy of its democracy as well as our increasingly in-depth understanding of Persian tactics and army units.

The narrative moves on to the Persian arrival at Marathon, the layout of the plain, the battle itself, its aftermath and a final note on ‘what if’.

Krentz’s major argument is that the Athenians were carrying a maximum of 40–50 pounds of kit, lower than most previous estimations. If so, the Athenians’ infamous run 0.9 miles across the plain to attack before Persian cavalry could engage was not only possible, but strategically brilliant.

This book is engaging and thoughtful, backed up by scholarly appendices, endnotes and further reading. It is a worthy testament to the battle that the Athenians thought their greatest.

Michael C Scott is the author of From Democrats to Kings (Icon, 2009) and Delphi and Olympia (Cambridge University Press, 2010)
 

See also…

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Michael Scott’s blog The Greek legend behind the Marathon